Efforts to bring Premiership games Stateside are consistent with USARFU's vision of 'inspiring America to fall in love with rugby', but may come at the expense of technical development and member services.
English teams, most of which make a yearly loss, are seeking new marketing and revenue opportunities but worry about conceding established business. The cost of their participation, if fixed and guaranteed, could be high. If there is no immediate return for USARFU, then development and core services stand to be crowded out.
Boulder's largest category of expense is high performance programs, followed by development initiatives and then events. Were it to stage Premiership matches, the union's events budget would surely grow. Reduced HP budgets tend to show up in playing results, which risks the ire of the International Rugby Board, the union's second-largest source of revenue (player dues lead the way), leaving development in harm's way.
'We are looking to ... open up the US market commercially,' Premier Rugby chief executive Mike McCafferty told the Rugby Paper, which reported USARFU chief executive Nigel Melville would be meeting with the English league's head man.
'We have had a lot of approaches and a lot of discussions from people who want us to play Premiership matches out there. They can see the prospect of getting anything from 50,000 to 70,000 into their stadia. It’s quite a step at the moment but I don’t rule it for the future'.
The prospect of Premiership games in the US is also of a piece with USARFU's recent pursuit of new revenue: The union has a history of making sizeable bets.
In 2003, chair Neal Brendel and chief executive Doug Arnot launched the USA 7s in hopes of creating a substantial commercial operation. The initiative was poorly managed, with major cost overruns and operating requirements well beyond the national office's core competencies. Three years later, having drained its cash reserves, USARFU was forced to sell the license to the 7s World Series tournament, plus USA jersey rights, in order to stave off bankruptcy.
In 2009, chair Kevin Roberts publicly lobbied for a Bledisloe Cup match in Denver, which would have guaranteed Australia and New Zealand NZ$5 million (currently, $3.9 million) while the US accepted responsibility for selling a 76,000-seat stadium and a NZ$200,000 payout ($156,000). Past NZRU executive David Moffett slammed the Kiwi union for such onerous terms; the game was awarded to Japan; and losses on the contest were responsible for the 'bulk' of a NZ$4.2 million ($3.3 million) shortfall in the NZRU's 2009's match income.
Earlier this year, the union announced it would bid on the 2018 7s World Cup, even though the 2013 7s Rugby World Cup in Russia flopped. Then again, USARFU said in its 2006 strategic plan it would bid on the 2015 World Cup, but did not.
Even as Boulder's pursuit of international opportunities is constrained because the 7s is in private hands and fewer 'tier 1' 15s matches are available, attempts to build up domestic competitions such as the collegiate D1A or 7s championship have fizzled.
This is in part because in the late 2000s domestic competitions took a backseat. The collegiate 15s tournaments, for example, were once shunted into an out-of-the-way New Mexico recreation ground. Several years later, a national title between BYU and Cal drew upward of 10,000 but returned little income to the participants.
At the senior level, the Super League finals and senior 7s championships were both staged on weekends when the national team played, including one August occasion against a French club side in South Carolina. RSL is defunct, admittedly for a variety of reasons, but newfound Olympic status has made hot properties of the abbreviated game.
After a long spell with a virtual monopoly, USARFU now finds competitions such as the Varsity Cup tournament striking out on their own, while division 2 teams have demanded to reset the timing of their competition. Events like the Serevi Rugbytown 7s gain notoreity in spite of conflicting with the USA-Canada match in Charleston.
All this may be salutary. In America, government normally does not risk its tax and fee revenue on private enterprise. It does leave Boulder with limited resources, but then, choosing what is to be done with limited monies is the essence of public sector (i.e., governing body) management.